There isn’t a secret formula for executing the perfect book launch. There are numerous factors in play that are constantly changing, from news and popular culture, to the publishing industry, to what just plain work in marketing and promotion. But the real “secret success strategy” to book sales is very straightforward: give readers what they want! The challenges arise because reader expectations are a moving target.
As authors, it’s important to be flexible and adaptive to these changes and have a clear idea of how they play into our own marketing plan.
But while change is inevitable, there are still some key strategies I’ve tested and one, in particular, I want to share today. Though it won’t guarantee success, it has worked well for me and the authors I collaborate with, and I hope it can help you too.
Most authors spend more time than they expected pondering their author platform. With the world slowly beginning to open up again it’s time to look at the other side of the coin—the Offline Platform. Take a look here for a refresher on what makes up your Online Author Platform in Part 1. If you are ready to reconnect in person there are plenty of opportunities to grow your brand.
So, you’ve got a first (or second or third) draft, but you’re still trying to get at the heart of what motivates your character. You’re still trying to unearth the variety of emotions, the intensity, the complexities of the emotions your character experiences at different points in the story.
But you’re stuck.
Those generic characterization quizzes and questionnaires only seem to hit surface level stuff for me. It’s too easy to skim those answers just to get it done.
I have a character like that right now. I KNOW this character. I’ve been working on this story for far longer than I care to admit, but she’s a tough nut. She doesn’t want to talk about it. She clams up. It’s beyond frustrating!
If you’re committed to writing a series, congratulations. If you’re committed to writing stand-alones, good for you. If you could see yourself doing either a series or a stand-alone, welcome to the club! There are so many advantages, and so many disadvantages, to writing a series that it can be hard to decide how you’d rather tell your stories.
Stand-Alone vs. Series
Let’s look at some of the up-sides and down-sides for each option:
Readers who enjoy one book in a series are likely to stay loyal and keep reading the rest as long as you keep writing ‘em. You’re pretty well guaranteed a Repeat Buyer (or at least a Repeat Reader) all the way through to the end of the series.
On the other hand, that can be confining. You might have a story idea you’re dying to write, but it doesn’t fit in with the characters or setting or genre of your series in progress. When will you ever find a break from your current project for creating the next?
More than half of human communication consists of body language, which we use to communicate feelings, thought, and ideas without speech. Body language impacts other people’s perception and conveys our emotions far more than we think it does. Physical descriptions of what our characters are doing allows us to show-not-tell what is happening to them internally. It is one of the simplest ways to give the reader a feel for characters’ depth of mood and attitude.
Can you communicate well with others if you sit on your hands? I tried to and discovered that I don’t express myself as well. I’m a hand-gesturer. Plus, with COVID-19 upon us, I’ve realized how often I touch my face!
I also move around a lot, especially if I’m nervous. The first time I taught a classroom full of adults, I paced the entire time. Thinking back, I wonder if I made anyone dizzy.
Much of my workday at Bublish is spent talking with authors about the intersection of creativity and commerce—how to be true to one’s artistic intentions while writing work that is commercially viable.
Early on in these conversations, I encourage authors to take some time to articulate both their artistic and commercial aspirations—no matter where they are in their writing career. To me, this is very important work for all writers to do as early as possible. It’s an exercise that should kick off every writing career and every new writing project.
A writer should ask themselves: Why do I write? Where do I hope this creative journey will take me? And they should be as honest and thorough as possible in answering these questions.
Often I learn that this is the first-time the writer on the other end of the phone has engaged in such self-reflection. Up to our call, they explain, the story has led. They may have a vague sense of what they hope to achieve, but they haven’t taken the time to fully explore their intentions, motivations or desires when it comes to balancing creative and commercial interests. They are simply swimming in story ideas.
I often ponder what types of books and genres I can write. There are many genres I enjoy reading, but can I write in them? Do I have the knowledge to be able to write about subjects I’ve read about, where I lack any related life experience? What limits does my experience place on my writing?
As a ghostwriter, I steer toward book genres and subjects I am familiar with. I avoid projects in very technical areas like deep finance or medical research, as I don’t have a working knowledge of those subjects. I’d be limping along to try to write them. Ghostwriting is about getting into the person’s head and bringing out their story, but I must still step into their experience to make it real on the page. Sometimes, I just can’t.
I believe anything is possible, but not everything is probable. It is improbable that, in my current lifetime, I can do justice to some specific genres.
We’ve spent quite a bit of time on various blogs here at WITS talking about what makes a good cover for your genre, and about why you should invest in one. Now that you’re convinced you need one, what’s the next step?
If you’re reading this, I assume it’s because you’re not a graphic designer and you are in the position of having to hire one to do a cover for you. You are probably wondering how much a book cover costs. If that’s you, then keep in mind the old saying you get what you pay for.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get a fantastic, effective cover for an affordable price. It just means that more of the work might fall on your shoulders. Below are examples of how you can make book covers more affordable.
We all make hundreds of decisions every day, whether it’s to go one more day without washing our hair or deciding what we’re going to read. Most of those decisions are routine and unremarkable. But I bet you can remember a seemingly unremarkable decision that had a big impact on your life.
This is true of your characters as well. There are important decisions that can affect the entirety of your character’s life. Four particular areas carry a lot of power in guiding your main character through the story: motivation, backstory, conflict and character arc.
Decisions that show motivation
What if… In the beginning of your book your character makes an unpopular decision. We’ll say it’s to quit school. Your reader may not agree. It’s even better if your reader doesn’t agree. You can get them to change their minds and their hearts.
Writing emotional triggers, while optional, will take your writing to all-new levels of emotional connection for readers. This is a shortened sample lesson from my 5-week masterclass on writing in deep point of view.
In my book Method Acting For Writers, I talk about writing emotions in four layers: primary emotions (instinctive, knee-jerk, unthinking emotional responses), emotional triggers (optional), secondary emotions (thinking emotional responses to primary emotions), and behavior (what those emotions force the character to DO).
Don’t Google primary and secondary emotions—the clinical definitions are too nebulous to be a helpful template. In the context of fiction writing, whether an emotion is a primary or secondary emotion has more to do with what’s fueling the emotion.
Anger is almost always a secondary emotion—we’re angry because of/or in response to something.
But take attraction for instance; this can an instinctive response the character has no control over (a primary emotion), but it can also be a feeling that develops over time with familiarity (a secondary emotion). Thinking of emotions this way ensures the WHY is built-in for readers.